CHICAGO -- In a span of 35 seconds, Adam Wainwright used the terms "terrible," "pathetic," and "embarrassing," to describe how his Friday afternoon went at Wrigley Field.
Wainwright was addressing reporters following the St. Louis Cardinals' 13-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. It was a loss that sent the Cardinals' archrivals off to celebrate their 11th straight win, might have torpedoed the comeback attempt of a veteran major league pitcher and put yet another dent in the armor of infallibility the Cardinals used to wear in the National League.
As Wainwright spoke, several of his teammates seemed to be paying close attention, which is not unusual when Wainwright speaks to groups of people. He has a magnetic personality and is at ease in social situations.
The message is probably one the Cardinals need to hear. They're not mediocre because it's August and they're tired. They're not mediocre because they didn't make a big trade at the deadline. They're not mediocre because of injuries. They're not mediocre because there has been an illness going around the clubhouse. They're mediocre because they have played mediocre baseball and, lately, that is probably a bit too kind.
And, yeah, Friday was embarrassing. The game was all but over by the third inning and so was Wainwright's day after he gave up seven runs and six hits, four of them doubles and one of them a home run. That turned the rest of the day into a mop-up operation. One of the pitchers called upon was Jerome Williams, who was trampled by a hot Cubs lineup, yielding four home runs in a span of 10 batters.
Manager Mike Matheny's main job at that point was to keep from punishing the wrong guy's ERA. He admitted Williams had to "wear it," because Wainwright had taken one for the team in his previous start, when he managed to slog through six innings against the Atlanta Braves, the worst offense in baseball which managed 12 baserunners that day off Wainwright.
Matheny was asked why he pulled Wainwright after two innings and 56 pitches.
"What leads to that decision is I made him do the exact same thing last time and throw 100-plus pitches. He just ate it for us last time. You can't make him do it twice," Matheny said. "Part of him going out and maybe having some tougher innings could be the amount of work. We needed it last time. You can't make him go do the same thing twice in a row."
Wainwright (9-7) managed to steady himself after a rough April, but he has reverted to his early season struggles in the last four starts. He has a 4.72 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. The ERA is the worst of his career, and the WHIP is his worst mark in nine seasons.
"This is the worst season of my career," Wainwright said. "This is terrible and I've got some time now to turn it around, which I'm going to do."
Since Wainwright did it once before already, it's reasonable to bet on him ironing out his mechanical flaws and pitching good games between now and the end of the season. Having faith that the team will ever get on a roll is getting harder and harder. The Cardinals kept saying they would play better baseball after the All-Star break but they have been worse, going 14-14. They just lost their No. 3 hitter, Matt Holliday, perhaps for the rest of the season.
"There's a chance we could stroll through this season and continue to play .500 ball to the end and stink it up," Wainwright said. "There's also a very good chance that we don't. Maybe it'll be September or the end of August, whenever that is that we catch fire and become very dangerous. That's what we keep hoping for and that's what we're banking on."
The Cardinals actually continued the pattern of having better at-bats against Jake Arrieta than most teams. He needed 105 pitches and couldn't get out of the sixth inning despite having excellent command and stuff. Stephen Piscotty took him deep to center field.
"Overall, obviously he's a very, very good pitcher who has had a lot of success, but all things are even and we're able to go out and have the kind of start we want, we're going to give him a good run for his money," Matheny said. "He knows that. We had good at-bats against him. I think we always have."
Lately, Matheny has taken to combing carefully through losses for positive signs he can spend time talking about. He found it a lot easier to do Thursday than he did Friday. The less strenuously he has to search, the better off the Cardinals will be. On Friday, thanks to Wainwright, they had something to build on, perhaps: They had a sense of accountability.